Chris Aiken – Cuso International
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Chris Aiken credits his faith, family, and friends as the inspirations behind his past efforts in international development, and his current work with Cuso International. From having an aunt active in the field and fluent in eight languages, to peers spending time abroad in Cambodia and Peru, and finally his personal and spiritual commitment to serving others, it was inevitable that Chris would become involved in the areas of social justice and global change.
First volunteering overseas in Botswana, helping to organize health and safety workshops for school children, Chris quickly found his passion for international development. Currently working with the Canadian Red Cross’ Disaster Management Program to prepare for potential crises, he has contributed to a wide range of causes all over the world, ranging from helping modernize the Mozambique Red Cross’ national volunteer database to assisting the Myanmar Parliament in implementing critical communication strategies among their staff. Chris was also able to apply his experience at home, co-founding the Campus Unity Project at University of Toronto Scarborough, a student organization that simplified and integrated a number of community development initiatives to achieve greater capacity and impact.
Although it might seem from his globe-spanning work that transitioning between different countries and projects is easy, Chris stresses that one of the greatest challenges that he and other changemakers face is establishing connections to partner communities. “It’s very easy to oversimplify what the other country is like… to trivialize the problems you face overseas when you know that you are leaving,” he admits, going on to say that “it takes effort to really try and understand the culture and the people you are working with.” Conversely, once you’ve committed to building this connection, Chris warns that returning home can easily make that time and effort feel wasted or no longer relevant, so it is important to recognize that your experiences are real and significant – that the impact you have made and the impact on your life will continue to affect you no matter where you go.
Being realistic about those impacts is also important. “It’s important [to place yourself] as ‘second fiddle’,” he states, emphasizing that youth looking to join community projects must remind themselves that success or failure isn’t designed by your experience, but by the people that will remain in that community after you leave. Building relationships with those individuals, and being respectful of their needs and perspectives, is critical to being effective, as is recognizing that creating change is (in his words) a ‘team sport’. “Every time I went overseas, I worked as a member of a team… it was all of us working together that made an impact. It was the collective contributions of all the people I worked with overseas, and the support of family and friends back home that made everything I have been a part of possible.”
Cuso International is a non-profit, international development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of highly skilled volunteers, collaborative partnerships and compassionate donors in more than 40 countries around the world.
In celebration of International Development Week 2016 OCIC is recognizing Lainey, Robin and Sarah as three of seven Ontario youth in the Global Changemaker Youth Ambassadors program for their contributions to international cooperation and social justice.
For full stories on all seven Global Changemaker Youth Ambassadors visit ocic.on.ca/what-we-do/influence-by-informing/ocic-global-changemaker-youth-ambassadors-2016/
More information on OCIC’s International Development Week 2016 activities: ocic.on.ca/what-we-do/influence-by-informing/international-development-week-2016-program
This initiative is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.